Our warning of a regional health crisis was sent loud and clear

Maitland Mercury, 13 January 2022

For weeks now, every day in NSW appears to be "our deadliest ever" or "record breaking" with positive tests reaching new highs.

Our hospitals and GPs are crumbling under unprecedented pressure as health workers reach burn-out and our ambulance service struggles to cope with the demand.

People are dying and those of us lucky enough to see another dawn are either sick, angry or frustrated.

Nursing homes are in lock-down, we can't get food staples, businesses are closing because of a labour shortage and we're struggling to find rapid antigen tests. 

NSW is a state in disaster and it's our regional, rural and remote hubs that are among the worst hit, as highlighted well before Omicron hit by Australian Community Media (ACM) and Channel Nine mainstay Liz Hayes.

Four months ago we released a series of stories, including one about Ms Hayes and her late father, flagging all of the above.

The articles were written the same time the state re-opened from its pandemic hibernation in September 2021 - 12 months after submissions and witness testimony to a State parliamentary inquiry was held into NSW's already chronically ill health system.

Our journalists reported that a second wave was imminent and we wanted to know if our health system was ready for the onslaught.

The writing was on the wall - NSW was on the brink of disaster and poised to face some of its darkest days.

We spoke to health professionals, politicians, unions and families already struggling because of an overloaded and inadequate health system that was damaged long before COVID unleashed its wrath.

The politicians said they were working on it, the health workers said the worst was yet to come, the families - like Ms Hayes' - said it's too late.

Ms Hayes' father, Bryan Ryan, died in Manning Base Hospital, Taree, after not being administered his prescribed anti-stroke tablets for eight days.

"We have hospitals without doctors, nurses walking away and we have paramedics saying they are just taxi drivers," Ms Hayes said.

"If you put all of that together, you have to say that it's not working and it's not servicing the people.

"In all, it reeks of a system that needs urgent attention. If anything should be in ICU, it's the rural health system," she said.

But the over arching theme is clear, the State's regional healthcare system is in crisis with continuous complaints of under-staffing and lack of resources.

Health Services Union NSW Secretary, Gerard Hayes, told ACM in September that our regional and rural health care services were not prepared for what was ahead.

"I'm not saying this to be obtuse, but what we have seen over the past decade has been a system tightening its belt constantly and working to be as lean as possible," Mr Hayes said.

Mr Hayes said at the time that he held grave concerns for the well-being of hospitals, allied health services, general practice and health workers post lockdown and believed the pressure that would be placed on an already embattled health system was yet to be fully realised.

Our health system is broken and as we continue to buckle under this insidious pandemic it begs the question, can it be fixed?